A bold, heartfelt tale of life at Green Gables . . . before Anne: A marvelously entertaining and moving historical novel, set in rural Prince Edward Island in the nineteenth century, that imagines the young life of spinster Marilla Cuthbert, and the choices that will open her life to the possibility of heartbreak—and unimaginable greatness.
Plucky and ambitious, Marilla Cuthbert is thirteen years old when her world is turned upside down. Her beloved mother dies in childbirth, and Marilla suddenly must bear the responsibilities of a farm wife: cooking, sewing, keeping house, and overseeing the day-to-day life of Green Gables with her brother, Matthew and father, Hugh.
In Avonlea—a small, tight-knit farming town on a remote island—life holds few options for farm girls. Her one connection to the wider world is Aunt Elizabeth “Izzy” Johnson, her mother’s sister, who managed to escape from Avonlea to the bustling city of St. Catharines. An opinionated spinster, Aunt Izzy’s talent as a seamstress has allowed her to build a thriving business and make her own way in the world.
Emboldened by her aunt, Marilla dares to venture beyond the safety of Green Gables and discovers new friends and new opportunities. Joining the Ladies Aid Society, she raises funds for an orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity in nearby Nova Scotia that secretly serves as a way station for runaway slaves from America. Her budding romance with John Blythe, the charming son of a neighbor, offers her a possibility of future happiness—Marilla is in no rush to trade one farm life for another. She soon finds herself caught up in the dangerous work of politics, and abolition—jeopardizing all she cherishes, including her bond with her dearest John Blythe. Now Marilla must face a reckoning between her dreams of making a difference in the wider world and the small-town reality of life at Green Gables.
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (October 23, 2018)
Publisher: William Morrow (October 23, 2018)
I jumped on this book tour both because I adore Sarah McCoy and her books (see my reviews of The Baker's Daughter and The Mapmaker's Children) and because the Anne of Green Gables books have had a place in my heart since childhood. Marilla Cuthbert was never my favorite character in the books--especially in the beginning when she is so cold to Anne, but she grew on me as the series unfolded. It's intriguing to learn about her and how she ended up unmarried and living with her bachelor brother when they decide to take in an orphan boy to help with the farm work and end up with Anne instead. In Marilla of Green Gables, Anne is not in the picture and instead we meet thirteen-year-old Marilla, growing up in her somewhat isolated family home on remote Prince Edward Island. Marilla's world is small and feels safe with her parents, older brother Matthew, and a new sibling soon to be born. Her world is shaken up with the arrival of her Aunt Izzy, her mother's twin and a shock to Marilla who had no idea her mother was a twin and really no concept that twins existed. Marilla starts to form a bond with Izzy when tragedy strikes and the baby is stillborn, Marilla's mother dies in childbirth, and she makes a promise to her that she will care for her father and brother. It's a promise that spurs Marilla to distance herself from her neighbor, family friend and romantic interest, John Blythe--and one that alters her future.
It was a comment from Marilla about John Blythe in Anne of Green Gables that prompted McCoy to write this book... "John Blythe was a nice boy. We used to be real good friends, he and I. People called him my beau." McCoy's imagining of Marilla's early life is touching, interesting and offers insights not just about Marilla, but about other characters like Matthew Cuthbert, John, and Marilla's friend, Rachel Lynde. The book takes place from 1837 to 1876 and gives glimpses into the history of the times from the beginnings of women's suffrage to the impact of slavery and the U.S. Civil War in Canada and that country's own strife and rebellions. Marilla's story captured my imagination and touched my heart, as well as made me want to reread L.M. Montgomery's beloved series. Even if you aren't acquainted with Anne of Green Gables and its characters, if you like well-written historical fiction, books set in the nineteenth century, and books that take place in Canada, you will enjoy this one.
Author Notes: Sarah McCoy is the New York Times, USA Today, and internationally bestselling author of the novels The Mapmaker’s Children; The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award nominee; and The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico. She has taught English and writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She lives with her husband, an orthopedic sports surgeon, and their dog, Gilbert, in North Carolina.
Sarah enjoys connecting with her readers on Twitter at @SarahMMcCoy, on her Facebook Fan Page, on Instagram at @sarahmmccoy, or via her website, www.sarahmccoy.com.
Sarah McCoy books have plenty of the foods of the time and setting of her stories and Marilla of Green Gables is no exception. Food mentions included bread, cocoa and gingersnaps, angel cake baked with red currant wine, sweet biscuits with sweet butter and homemade preserves, warm milk and sardines for Skunk (the family cat), picking sorrel for soup, cellar turnips and pickled vegetables, profiteroles filled with plum and crabapple preserves, black tea, dried red currants, Easter scones, porridge with maple syrup, potatoes, peas, roasted chestnuts, corn, butter nut cakes, brown bread, cake with strawberry jam, creamy neep soup (turnip soup), toffee puddings, guinea hens, spring bean succotash and sponge cake, soft-boiled eggs, cheese curds and apple slices, cabbage soups, asparagus, fruit juice, cordials, cucumber boats, pickled eggs with creamed mustard, herb bannock (a kind of bread), beef pie, mackerel, pea soup, breakfast oats, Darjeeling tea and vanilla cake, raspberry cordial, Dinner hampers filled with stewed oysters, biscuits and lemon pudding, jelly chicken, pickled cucumbers, cherry tarts, plum preserves, chocolates from London, ham and mushroom pastry, sweet almond gingerbread, beef olives, potato balls, cottage loaf, figs, a jar of sweets meats, and raisin Bath buns, fried potatoes and sausages, tomato stew, potato soup, string beans, pork and pea soup, baked sugar shortbread and maple creams, roasted beef, fruit cake, mulled currant wine, "buttermilk biscuits studded with sweet currants, sprinkled with cinnamon, and drenched in maple syrup," coffee, applesauce, jarred blue plums, leg of mutton with garlic and rosemary, ham with brown sugar and vinegar dressing, green peas, tart apple turnovers, oatcakes and cold bacon, and hotcakes. Whew!
For my book-inspired dish, I feel like the book called for either a fruit wine or a cordial--either the Cuthbert red currant versions or perhaps a raspberry cordial in honor of the Ladies Aid Society fundraising efforts. Either would be a pretty red color but, needs must, I also needed a cranberry recipe this week and so I looked for a recipe for an equally red cranberry liqueur or cordial recipe. In Diana Henry's Salt Sugar Smoke, she has several recipes for fruit syrups, liqueurs, and sharbats (Middle Eastern syrups). I ended up using her Black Currant Syrup recipe as my base, switching out the black currants for fresh cranberries.
Adapted from Salt Sugar Smoke by Diana Henry
4 cups cranberries
juice of 1 1/2 lemons
1 1/2 cup sugar, or to taste
Put the fruit into a saucepan with 2 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, until the berries are completely soft and pulpy.
Pour into a jelly bag suspended over a bowl to catch the juice, and let it sit overnight.
The next day, measure the liquid. Add the lemon juice and sugar (2 cups sugar for every 2 cups of liquid). Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, then pour into a warm, sterilized bottle and seal. It will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of months.
Notes/Results: I'll be honest, I did this all in one night, pushing the berries through a lined sieve with a wooden spoon, then putting them back on the stove to cook down a bit with lemon and sugar. It would have been nice to let it sit overnight but I fell that there was still plenty of cranberry flavor coming through. The flavor is pleasantly sweet-tart--not too much of one or the other and deliciously fruity. You can mix it with water--plain or bubbly, or add it to a cocktail. I used an apple-flavored sparkling water and really enjoyed it. This would make a pretty gift in cute bottles for the holidays and it's a great way to use up extra bags of cranberries. I will happily make it again.
Linking up with I Heart Cooking Clubs where this week is our Monthly Ingredient Challenge: Cranberries.
Here are five of my other favorite cranberry recipes from our IHCC chefs:
Tessa Kiros Cranberry Syrup Two Ways
Jacques Pépin's Brie with Pistachio Crust & Cranberries
Tessa Kiros's Cranberry Sorbet
Diana Henry's New York Sweet Cranberry Mustard
Nigella's Cranberry and White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies with Pistachios
I'm also sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
Note: A review copy of "Marilla of Green Gables" was provided to me by the author and the publisher, Harper Collins, via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own. You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.